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Posted by on in Assessment


I've found myself trying to explain the difference between norm and standards reference multiple times in the last few weeks, which means it's time to write about it. A lot of people get this distinction-- but a lot of people don't. I'm going to try to do this in plain(ish) English, so those of you who are testing experts, please forgive the lack of correct technical terminology.

A standards-referenced (or criterion-referenced) test is the easiest one to understand and, I am learning, what many, many people think we're talking about when we talk about tests in general and standardized tests in particular. 

With standards reference, we can set a solid immovable line between different levels of achievement, and we can do it before the test is even given. This week I'm giving a spelling test consisting of twenty words. Before I even give the test, I can tell my class that if they get eighteen or more correct, they get an A, if they get sixteen correct, they did okay, and if the get thirteen or less correct, they fail.

A drivers license test is also standards-referenced. If I complete the minimum number of driving tasks correctly, I get a license. If I don't, I don't.

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Posted by on in General

Every top teacher that I know can tell you what their Worst Thing is.

The good-bad teacher model that's constantly being used as a basis for policy proposals-- it's nuts. In that universe, teachers are good or bad. Put a bad teacher in a classroom, and education withers and dies as students fail to thrive. Put a great teacher (or an "effective teacher") in a classroom, and test scores fly upward and a thousand learning moments bloom. If you're a teacher, you're good or bad, and when you step into a classroom, your fruits reveal your nature.

But "good teacher" is not what you are; it's what you do. And every good teacher knows a list of things she needs to do better.

This is one of those killer Things They Don't Tell You In Ed School. You will not be able to do everything you know you need to. You will see all the things that need to be done-- and you will only be able to do some of them.

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Posted by on in Professional Development

Man, it can really stink to be a young person contemplating teaching these days. It's not just that so much of the news about the profession, or that states are crying about shortages while districts say they're not hiring, or that so much security is being stripped, or that so many layers of crap have been dropped on the classroom, or that poverty has become so widespread in the nation, or that looking closely at our institutions reveals embedded layers of racism and classism, or that education has so few attackers and so few supporters, or even that so many old farts will tell you, "For the love of God, young'uns-- don't go into teaching! It's a terrible idea!"

First, I want to apologize on behalf of Old Farts everywhere. We should really knock it off with delivering Discouraging Words, which are at best annoying and at worst disrespectful, as if Kids These Days are incapable of making their own career choices.

Second, I want to be clear that I teach in a rural, small town setting where we are not very wealthy, but don't have the heartbreaking level of poverty found in some parts of the country. There are hundreds of thousands of teachers who have a much harder job than mine.

There are many reasons to stay away from classrooms these days. Lack of resources, but an excess of blame. Low levels of pay, but high levels of disrespect. Large challenges to overcome, but tiny tools with which to tackle them. Many people who want to tell you what to do, but few people who want to actually help you do it. And when you start to peel back the educational onion, layers of institutionalized racism, classism, and decisions driven by politics, greed, power-- everything except the needs of the children.

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Posted by on in Common Core Standards

stencil.twitter post 92

Recently on multiple platforms, Robert Pondiscio talked about reading on his way to standing up for Secretary of Education John King. We disagree about his praise of King for making all the correct word noises, but he's made a point worth repeating about the improvement of reading.

Every teacher of low-income children and English language learners  has had this moment: You’re sitting with a student, working line by line  through a text, grappling with what should be fairly simple  comprehension questions.

“Did you read it?” you ask. “I read it,” the child replies. “But I didn’t get it.”

This is what reading failure often looks like in a struggling school.  A child can read the words on a page in front of him, but he can’t  always make sense of them.

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Posted by on in Assessment

stencil.twitter post 74

One of the holy grails of ed reform is comparability. The aim is a score or grade or rating that allows us to say definitively that Hypothetical High School is a better school than Imaginary Academy, that Pat O'Furniture teaching third grade in Iowa is a better teacher that Teachy McTeacherson teaching tenth grade Spanish in Maine.

But we're also looking for evaluations that provide useful information, and there's one of the major problems in the evaluation world these days.

The more comparable a measure is, the less useful it is.

Comparable measures must be reductive. In order to compare the elementary teacher in Iowa and the language teacher in Maine, we have to reduce the measure to elements that both teachers possess. This means that the measure must be simple, and it must ignore most of what makes each teacher unique.

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